The Turkish “peace process” ( & Öcalan) : suspicious, unspecific, & frail talks & steps

By Shakhawan Shorsh — Special to – Many countries in the region and around the world welcomed the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurds, especially after the release of the letter written by Abdulla Ocalan, the jailed Kurdish leader of the Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK).

Ocalan’s message is quite broad and lacks a tangible and concrete political proposal. We should not forget that since Ocalan is not a free man, we must read his messages very cautiously. However, the key message of Ocalan’s letter is that the armed conflict can be resolved through dialogue and negotiations between Turks and Kurds. This message can be used for different aims. If Turkey desires a trustworthy solution and accepts the political rights of the Kurds, then this message can result in a reliable solution to the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurds. In other words, Turkey must understand and accept that there is a huge Kurdish minority within their own territory that has the rights of recognition and self-determination. On the other hand, the message can also be used for a short-term solution to the conflict if the Turkish state continues to ignore the Kurd’s political rights and focuses instead on relatively insignificant individual rights and cultural rights.

If we look at the speeches of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, we find that there is not any real admission and recognition of the Kurdish people’s rights. Rather, his speeches focus on the withdrawal of the PKK partisans and the end of the armed conflict; these speeches also focus on half-hearted steps toward ensuring more cultural rights for the Kurds. For instance, according to Erdogan, the only official language of the state is Turkish. Erdogan has said that if someone would like to learn Kurdish, they can go to a Kurdish private school and learn Kurdish. According to Erdogan, there is only one nation and one language in Turkey. There is not a Kurdish issue and an oppressed Kurdish minority does not exist in Turkey. Erdogan’s messages can adjust immigrants or small minority ethnic people which number is insignificant. Once we know that the Kurds number 25 million people, Erdogan’s messages seem like little more like a sort of denial and political maneuver to avoid facing the Kurdish problem.

Although Turkish leaders emphasize the importance of the withdrawal of the PKK partisans from Turkey, we cannot see any clear steps toward Turkey officially recognizing Kurdish rights. As PKK members are Kurds that belong to Turkish Kurdistan, the relevant question here is as follows: why should they leave their own homeland? During many negotiations between Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Arab regimes in the past 60 years, the withdrawal of Kurdish partisans was never a pre-condition or a demand in the negotiations.

On the other hand, using a jailed leader to lead the secret negotiations raises several questions. Ocalan cannot lead a negotiation in the so-called peace process because he is not a free man. He is no doubt affected by the harsh prison conditions and by the psychological torture and pressure he is experiencing at the hands of Turkish authorities. There is a real risk for Turkey to take advantage of him however it sees fit. Turkey could take real steps toward peace by giving amnesty to all PKK members and engaging the Kurdish leaders (including PKK leaders) in an open process of peace talks. If Turkey has a genuine intention to establish the constitutional recognition and acceptance of Kurdish rights, then it does not need to ask PKK to withdraw or cease the armed struggle. PKK partisans will automatically cease using force when the Kurdish people are free to enjoy their political rights.

While there are secret talks in the name of the peace process and the PKK has started to withdraw from Turkish Kurdistan, ordinary Kurds are worried about their political future and the outcome of the secret talks. It is not clear what Turkey’s actual intentions are underlying the so-called peace process. There is no clear roadmap concerning the solution of the Kurdish issue. Neither Ocalan nor the Turkish government has mentioned any of the known options (options that have been used in other countries) concerning state-minority conflicts.

There is a great doubt regarding the existence of a “peace process” that aims to solve the Kurdish-Turkish problem. The Kurdish question cannot be solved merely by Turkey accepting some of the Kurd’s cultural rights or recognizing the Kurdish language. There should be no need to negotiate cultural rights to begin with as Turkey should accept the cultural rights of its minorities without question. Cultural rights are one of the most basic rights in a free democratic country. Does Turkey not claim to be a free democracy?

The Kurdish issue in Turkey requires concrete political options that can lead to Kurdish self-rule in Kurdish territory and active Kurdish participation in the Turkish central government based on the principles of democracy and minority rights. Some manner of self-rule and self-determination with proportional representation and a power-sharing system (or a federal system) with Kurdish veto rights can lead to a long-term solution and stability in the region. Kurds make up a huge minority in Turkey; therefore, a reliable solution must meet the aspirations of the Kurds. In other words, Kurds have the right to self-rule and self-determination. If Turkey wants to experience a long-term peace with the Kurds inside Turkey, the Turkish government must grant full political rights to the Kurds.

Shakhawan Shorash, a freelance writer from Iraqi Kurdistan and regular contributing writer for, you can visit Shorsh’s website at: